What has suddenly changed about the Turkish national team, dear press?

ARDA ALAN IŞIK
ISTANBUL
Published 13.06.2016 22:43

Recently I received a cynical message from a reader, accusing me "being a sell-out and praying for the Turkish national team's failure" because of my critical pieces. True, I was the only one in the Turkish media who dared to state the wrongdoings in the national team and refused to accept the chaotic, individual-based game that led Turkey to a horrible game against Croatia. Strangely though, there have been considerably more "traitors" in the Turkish media after the game, and many columnists who only praised Fatih Terim throughout the qualifiers instantly became skeptical of Terim's management after the 1-0 defeat. Nevertheless, the truth is still the same and it does not change whether Turkey win or lose, chaos may result in many different forms, but the point is building a tactic that is more powerful and more reliable than chaos.

As I wrote repeatedly before the Croatia game, Turkey do not have a concrete plan for both scoring and defending. Thus, Croatia created 13 chances throughout the game, while Turkey only found one position, which came from a cross. At this point, unfortunately many columnists mistakenly blamed Turkey's talented midfielders such as Arda Turan, Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Oğuzhan Özyakup. Nonetheless, these players did not even have the chance of having enough time and space in the opponent's half, which would only be assured by positioning the defense closer to the midfield. Thus, rather than a lack of motivation and talent, there was no strategy to utilize the energy in the Turkish midfield.

However, this was not just a coaching mistake, but nonetheless Fatih Terim failed to give his team the structure they needed. In contrast, as his substitutions in the second half proved, his main goal was to take just one point against Croatia. The first player he took off was Oğuzhan Özyakup, maybe the most convenient option for the playmaker position and the only player who was able to make the game flow in the opponent's half. But Terim did not opt for a controlled, organized way of attacking, and Turkey are not capable of doing so, as was evident against Croatia. He simply put the most chaotic and quick wingers on the field and hoped that somehow they can create an opportunity by themselves. Do not get me wrong, both Emre Mor and Volkan Şen can be very effective in a pre-planned strategy, but what is illogical here is that Terim expects miracles from these players without giving them a basis.

The most crucial difference between Turkey and Croatia was while the former put their defense deep in their half, the latter dared to position their defense closer to the midfield and maintained their dominance in collecting deflected balls. It is again very interesting to see where the Turkish media throw their criticism and miss the broader view. The consensus among them is that no Turkish player was as enthusiastic as the Croatian players and Croatia simply dominated the whole game. Let's say there had been an incredibly motivated Turkish player who had tried to intervene in almost every ball, this player would still be facing an impossible task, trying to cover a midfield that had no defenders or outlets near it. How could he have collected the deflected balls while his team completely gathered around their own penalty box. If his coach chooses for this to happen, how can individuals change the course of the game?

Before accusing my criticism of being treasonous and boiling players in the oil, I advise everyone who cares about the national team's success to dare to question the very real structural and strategic issues rather than being dogmatic followers of the team. Turkish football's future is at stake here, if you are okay with relative success once every 10 years, you are free to accuse anyone of not being nationalistic enough. But I will not settle until the universal truths of football prevail in Turkish football, regardless of what other people think.

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